Friday, December 2, 2022

Truth Social: Shady Deals Lead to a Federal Investigation (2022)


    The relatively new, conservative based social media app, Truth Social, has been sparking controversy since the time of its development in early 2021. This application, headed by Donald Trump and his company Trump Media, has raised questions about not only how it is being run and moderated, but also the dealings behind the scenes that have led to a federal investigation. Investors, developers, and users, and even those who have left the company have been affected by this, and some who continue to be involved are dealing with the consequences.

    Despite the polarizing topic of the app’s political nature, this paper is intended to be an objective look into how the situation is viewed by four ethical theories: Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory. Only after considering the teachings of each theory will a verdict be able to be placed on Truth Social, and in turn, their parent company, Trump Media. After looking into each of the theories and their teachings, the acts from Trump Media and Truth Social will clearly be seen as more unethical that not.


Final tweets from former president Donald Trump
    Before discussing the controversy of Truth Social, its conception must be understood. On January 8th, 2021, closely following the January 6th insurrection of the U.S. Capitol Building, Donald Trump posted several tweets further spreading the message that the election was stolen and denying a peaceful transfer of power. According to a statement by Twitter, “We assessed the two Tweets referenced above under our Glorification of Violence policy, which aims to prevent the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts and determined that they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021” (Twitter). Many other forms of social media followed this act, banning the former president on their respective apps. Due to Trump using these sites as his major form of reaching his political followers, he was forced to use far smaller platforms. This caused him to look for an alternative, and eventually to create a competitor of his own: Truth Social.

    However, to launch such an app, they needed financial support from external sources, so Trump Media looked to investors for help. In late 2021, a deal was struck between Trump Media and the company Digital World Acquisition. Specifically, Trump Media would get $300 million for agreeing to a merger with Digital World (Goldstein and Thompson). This was a surprise to many, as there was nothing publicly stated before this time about a merger. However, this, in addition to $1 billion from several hedge funds, would be more than enough to fund Trump’s passion project and not many more eyebrows were raised.

The waitlist for Truth Social from https://ichef.bbci

    Launching just over a year after the permanent bans took place, Truth Social was marketed as a right-wing app that was highlighted by its lack of moderation, labeled by the developers as free speech. While this seemed like a safe haven for far-right wing Americans, in February of 2022, they were met with a host of issues with the interface of the app. The launch was “plagued by technical glitches and a 13-hour outage” (Kelly) and a month after its release, “new users are still being put on an ever-expanding million-person or more waitlist to join the app” (Kelly). While all major apps have technical difficulties in their early stages, this seemed to be more than expected. Reportedly, two executives of Truth Social resigned from their positions due to the nature of the launch. Josh Adams, the Chief Technology Officer, and Billy Boozer, the Head of Product Development, did not make a comment on specifics about their swift resignations.

Ricky Shiffer at the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

    In addition, the budding social media app was gaining more users, but this meant more of a chance for misuse. Following the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in August of 2022, there was an uproar on the app, including messages from a man by the name of Ricky Shiffer. One of these posts read “get whatever you need to be ready for combat” (Thompson and Goldstein). Later, he was killed attempting to break into an FBI office in retaliation to the search. While some point to Donald Trump for fueling some of this hatred, the senior research manager for Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Jared Holt, has another view of it. He indicated that, “the unfortunate truth is that any platform — once it gets big enough — has to deal with somebody doing something like that” (Thompson and Goldstein). This death made it difficult to justify one of its largest draws for the userbase: the lack of moderation.

Timeline of Events
    These were not the only issues with the company however, as internally there were surfacing problems surrounding the merger with Digital World. A whistleblower by the name of William Wilkerson claims that there were “fraudulent misrepresentations … in violation of federal securities laws” (Harwell). Based on Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) guidelines, talks of mergers between parties must be disclosed to the public. While Digital World did later acknowledge that there had been undisclosed talks of the Merger between representatives of each company, they “argue that those talks were too preliminary to meet the threshold for disclosure” (Goldstein). But with these admissions in addition to the whistleblower, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has launched an investigation into the deal. This process is far from over, but at this point, anything else would be pure speculation as those concerned with the company are waiting for the result of the investigation. As of now, the merger still has not gone through, but Digital World’s shareholders have extended the deadline of the merger a few months, and are looking at other long term options, to accommodate the company during the investigation.


    This process, from the deal with Digital World to those resigning because of too many technical issues, has affected many people, whether it be in a positive or negative manner. It is important to highlight some of these individuals and groups to acknowledge their level of involvement. This will help to adequately represent all parties involved when thinking about each ethical theory. The most obvious of these is Truth Social and by extension Trump Media. Based on the results of the Federal investigation, they could lose out on their promised $1.3 billion. Digital World is in a similar situation, as they would be forced to return the $300 million initially raised by the investors. Directly following this, the investors and contributing hedge fund managers would be affected by their money returning to them without payout. Another set of stakeholders are those using the app. While many are satisfied with the experience, the host of problems with other users and technical issues must be taken into consideration. Some individuals associated with the groups above are Donald Trump, Josh Adams, Billy Boozer, William Wilkerson, and Ricky Shiffer.


    This ethical theory is among the simplest to understand and can be broken down into two main parts. To be ethical under Individualism, an action must be profitable for the company, and in tandem, there must be no laws broken. From the perspective of Truth Social and Trump Media, this merger with Digital World was indeed a quite profitable idea. They would be gaining a total of $1.3 billion. To satisfy the second characteristic of Individualism, Trump Media claims that everything was done legally. If they are to be taken at their word, this would be an ethical action.

    However, there is more to this than it seems at first glance. If it proves that there were deceptive dealings between Digital World and Trump Media, the verdict would shift. The aforementioned result of Trump Media being innocent, and hence the merger being ethical is only one of two possible outcomes. The other is that they are guilty of fraudulent behavior. It is unclear which laws they are being investigated for, but if they have carried out illegal activity, the merger would not go through, and the money would be returned to the respective investors. This in turn would violate both the necessities behind individualism. The obvious part of them being guilty would imply that the law has been broken. As a result, profitability would be diminished greatly if not fully taken away. They would lose the money promised by the merger, making the action unethical. This cannot be reasoned whether it is ethical or not, but it is entirely based off the investigation.


    Contrary to Individualism where only the company taking action is considered, Utilitarianism takes the wellbeing of all stakeholders into account. The major tenant of this theory is to maximize happiness. If the action does not maximize happiness, then it is considered unethical. Similar to the last analysis, two cases will be considered regarding the outcome of the federal investigation. However, some stakeholders in the process are not particularly interested parties when it comes to the investigation, and hence they will be listed first. The main reason many of them are no longer linked to the company and its dealings is because they have been taken out of the equation in one way or another. Josh Adams and Billy Boozer were unhappy with the company and how the technical issues were being handled, as this was their reported reason for leaving. Another former executive, William Wilkerson the whistleblower, was so unhappy with the dealings at the company that he felt the need to file a formal complaint with the SEC. The final consideration for the currently uninterested parties is Ricky Shiffer. While he theoretically cannot feel happiness nor the contrary, his death presumably caused despair among family and friends. In this category, there were no feelings of happiness, but before an ethical judgment can be placed, the other two cases must be presented.

    If Trump Media is not guilty, it is reasonable to assume they would be happy as the long-awaited merger would finally be able to go through. This would give them access to funds to run Truth Social and potentially work on further ventures. It would equally make Digital World and their investors happy as they would make a profit from this just as much as Trump Media would. Taking the first group of people into account, there are more people who are happy simply because of the quantity associated with the deal that outweigh those who have been burned leading to the merger. On the contrary, if this deal is found to be illegitimate, all mentioned parties would completely flip and be unhappy. Truth Social could be at risk of shutting down with a lack of finances to run successfully, which would make all the employees generally unhappy. The same logical reasoning can explain the displeasure of all associated with Digital World and the investors funding the merger. In this case, all parties are not happy, so it would be unethical. Due to the divide in the cases, it is left up to the investigations results.


    While both of the past ethical theories were fairly simple, they also had some sizeable shortcomings that can create holes in their logical arguments. To make up for a lapse in the inadequacies of these theories, Kantianism is slightly more complicated and less black and white. There are a few important principal thoughts associated with this way of ethical analysis. The primary ones are to act rationally and to respect others’ rationality. All other rules of Kantianism can be derived from these two statements. If you are not helping people to be rational, or worse, obstructing their rationality by lying, this is not showing respect to their rationality. In addition to this, there are two important formulas to live by: the Formula of Humanity and the Formula of Universal Law.  The first of these claims that one must respect another’s humanity and never use them as a means to some end. The second of the formulas says to act according to a maxim and if you can universalize this maxim without contradictions to rationality, it is permissible.

    There is more to the teachings of Kant, however, this is more than enough information to pick out several violations by the heads of each company. One such infringement is the deceit behind the talks between representatives of Trump Media and Digital World that were not disclosed to the public. This does not respect the rationality of the public. Despite the companies not explicitly being dishonest, they were lying by omission. This also fails the Formula of Universal Law. Consider the maxim as not disclosing the talks to the public. Universalizing this, it can be seen that there is some information that could be useful that is unknown to people, hence lapsing their rationality.

    Another such violation is the idea of Truth Social as a whole. Trump Media is using those who work at the company, as well as the users of the site, as mere means to complete a merger that will profit Trump Media primarily. While Truth Social will also see some of the benefits, it will be less direct, contradicting the Formula of Humanity. Opposed to the last two ethical theories, Kantianism does not hinge on the federal investigation heavily. However, if found guilty, this would go against all what Kant believed to be ethical, as lying is an impermissible act. Therefore, it can be reasoned that this deal is unethical under the teaching of Kantianism.


    The final analysis that will be considered is that of Virtue Theory. When discussing this way of thinking, the first logical question is determining what a virtue is. It can be expressed as a characteristic that allows something to function as it is intended to. In humans, there are four major characteristics: courage, temperance, justice, and honesty. It can be seen quite easily that one must strive for these virtues, but they are each on their own spectrum. Take courage for instance; it sits on the spectrum between the vices of cowardice and recklessness. Despite these being qualities of an honorable person, humans are not inherently virtuous. The process to become virtuous has four steps. One must model themselves after a virtuous person, thus making it easier to know what habits to follow. Next, it must be acknowledged that most people are weak willed, and hence, the transformation will be difficult. Once this is realized, it is important to attempt to act with the virtuous qualities in mind. Once these actions become habit, they develop into character traits and in turn virtues.

    As honesty is one of the cardinal virtues, the argument for why the merger is not ethical follows similar logic to that of Kantianism. It is quite clear that those representing Trump Media and Digital World have failed one or more of the aforementioned steps. It would only be speculation to figure out where the error was, but no matter which step was missed or ignored, the outcome was the same. They were dishonest with the public about their talks of a merger behind closed doors. This also relies slightly on the result of the investigation, as it could violate the cardinal virtue of justice as well. If they are found to be guilty of fraudulent activity, this would directly contradict this virtue. Based on all the presented information, the teachings of Virtue Theory would undoubtedly condemn the merger between Trump Media and Digital World as being unethical.


    Reviewing the verdicts of the four considered theories, we have two that outright would label the merger unethical. The other two are somewhat inconclusive due to the fact that they rely so heavily on the outcome of the federal investigation. But to determine if it truly can be labeled one way or another, the ethical theories must be combined in some way to adequately judge them. One such method of combination could be to give each theory an equal weight. This approach would rely on the investigation so it will again be broken into cases. If the merger is found to be legitimate, the divide between theories claiming ethical and unethical will be two on one side and two on the other. Alternatively, if the deal is found to be illegal, all four theories label it as unethical. However, there is one final instance to examine. In the case of this current time, two theories label it as being unethical and two cases are undetermined. This can be modeled by looking at the probabilities of certain events. If we say each ethical theory is equal to one if unethical and zero if ethical, and the expectation is greater than two, the act is more likely to be unethical. Since major news sites are writing about it, it is reasonable to assume the probability of the investigation yielding a guilty verdict is greater than zero and hence, the expectation for the two undetermined theories is greater than zero. Added to the two that would define it as unethical, it can be seen that the expectation is greater than two. Therefore, the merger is more likely to be unethical currently.  


    It must be noted that this has been researched and written from the information available by December 2, 2022. As seen throughout the paper, much of it relies on the results of the federal investigation. However, it was written in such a way that hopefully the reader may easily convert the ethical theories to one way or another once the results are established. The covered scenarios are not necessarily comprehensive of all possibilities, but simply the most probable ones.

Owen Boyns


Goldstein, Matthew. “SPAC Tied to Trump Media Says Early Talks Were Not 'Substantive'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2022, 

Harwell, Drew. “Co-Founder of Trump's Media Company Details Truth Social's Bitter Infighting.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Oct. 2022,

Kelly, Makena. “Two Top Truth Social Execs Resign from the Company.” The Verge, The Verge, 4 Apr. 2022,

“Permanent Suspension of @RealDonaldTrump.” Twitter, Twitter,

Thompson, Stuart A., and Matthew Goldstein. “Truth Social's Influence Grows despite Its Business Problems.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Nov. 2022,

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